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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

RENEW’s Solar Energy Forecast for Wisconsin: Mostly Sunny Through 2019

Overview:  As 2015 winds down, it is abundantly clear that solar energy is on a roll in Wisconsin.
Outpost Foods in Mequon Solar Installation
The current year is ending with a flurry of installations and 2016 will start out on a similarly strong footing.  The appeal of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology has never been as broad as it is now, stretching from the smallest of residential customers to farms and faith communities and beyond to manufacturers and even some utilities.  Declining out-of-pocket installation costs now make solar-generated electricity an affordable energy option for all property owners with good solar exposure. 
Borah Teamwear in Coon Valley Solar Installation
As a result, growing numbers of Wisconsin electricity customers are taking steps to lock in the savings from solar today for their homes and businesses.

This trend begs two questions: what trends and policies are driving the solar energy market right now and how long will this dynamic continue?  Going into December, the 30% solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) had 13 months to go before expiring at the end of next year. In a surprise development, Congress passed a spending bill containing provisions to extend the solar ITC through 2021. On the same day that spending bill cleared Congress (Dec. 18, 2015), President Obama signed it into law. Thanks to this unexpected but very welcome action, the ITC will remain at 30% through the end of 2019, and then decline to 26% in 2020 and to 22% in 2021.

(For more complete information on the renewable energy tax credit landscape going forward, visit the links below:
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-28/these-will-be-wall-street-s-most-in-demand-positions-next-year

https://cleantechnica.com/2015/12/20/boom-times-ahead-us-clean-power-thanks-oil-lobby/)

Here in Wisconsin, financial support for solar installations is poised to transition away from cash incentives to loans. In 2016 the transition will begin first with prospective commercial solar hosts.

Policy and Market Drivers: The most significant factors propelling solar installation activity through 2015 are outlined below.

- Declining cost of hardware. Installed costs continued falling through 2015, driven mostly by lower module and inverter prices. That trend should continue in 2016 and beyond.

- A 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and accelerated depreciation provisions for new solar energy systems owned by taxpaying entities. These incentives will remain in place through 2021.

- USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, which offers grants and loan guarantees to qualifying rural businesses up to 25% of a PV system’s installed cost. The next deadline for applications is February 1, 2016. Approximately $50 million is available.

- Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s ratepayer-funded energy efficiency and renewable energy program. About $5 million in cash rebates were issued in 2015.

Outlook: Rebates up to $2,400 for PV systems serving residential and small commercial customers will continue in 2016. However, the state has no plans at this time to offer cash incentives to commercial and industrial PV system owners in 2016. Instead, Focus on Energy will make available $2,500,000 in low-interest loans beginning in 2016, and will inject the same amount into the forthcoming revolving loan program in 2017 and 2018. Cash rebates for any sector beyond 2016 will hinge on a Public Service Commission decision likely to occur in mid-2016.

Bottom line:  Notwithstanding the uncertainties created by Focus on Energy program changes, Wisconsin’s solar market should see solid growth through the end of the decade.

Prepared by RENEW Wisconsin, December 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

NRDC Blog: The Year in Utility Rate Cases: Mandatory Fee Hikes Retreat as Consumer Voices Pick up Steam


The following appeared on Samantha Williams' blog appearing on National Resource Defense Council's Switchboard page. It is an excellent summary of this year's utility rate cases nationwide and the "trend" of increasing mandatory monthly customer charges on residential electric customers. As she notes below, the tide is turning, even in Wisconsin.

"Even the Wisconsin Commission, the outlier in this discussion, is taking notice," Williams writes. "In a relative shift from their 2014 decisions, just a few weeks ago commissioners scaled back a fixed fee request from Wisconsin Public Service Corporation and ordered a study."

The Year in Utility Rate Cases: Mandatory Fee Hikes Retreat as Consumer Voices Pick up Steam


Posted December 17, 2015

Part of NRDC's Year-End Series Reviewing 2015 Energy Developments

This was a banner year for public push-back on utility proposals across the country that sought to dramatically change how customers are billed for their electricity.

Had the dozens of proposals this year succeeded, many homeowners and businesses would have been shackled with higher upfront fees, before they even turned on the lights. Thankfully, this was also a banner year for prudent, forward-thinking utility commissioners; nearly three-quarters of the orders issued in 2015 either rejected outright higher fixed fees or modified them to be smaller, incremental increases.

But what do these fees mean for consumers and the environment, and why should we build on the success of 2015 and continue to fight in 2016?

Imagine you're an average single family homeowner. Over the past few years, you've tried to "go green" and save money by participating in energy efficiency programs available through your utility. You had new insulation blown into your attic, you caulked your windows and doors, you upgraded to a more efficient refrigerator and washer and dryer.

The savings have started to roll in every month as you see your energy use go down. You're wasting less energy, cutting your bills, and doing your part to help the environment by conserving energy and lowering emissions.

You're happy you made these decisions.

Until one day you get a notice in the mail that your utility is increasing the "customer" or "fixed" portion of your bill. This increase is significant, from a current $10 per month to $20. And you notice the difference right away once the fees go into effect: the savings you previously enjoyed from your efficiency investments are seriously diminished, your bills noticeably higher. It's getting to the point where you're having a hard time even affording them.

You talk to your neighbor, who has a much larger house that consumes far more energy and you learn that she hasn't made any of the improvements you have. Yet, somehow, with the new rates in effect, your neighbor is now paying less than she used to, while you are paying more.

How can this be?!?

Mandatory Fixed Fees: The Impacts


It's really a question of control, costs, and conservation.

Control - When a utility increases its fixed costs, at the same time it typically decreases the variable per/kWh charge that goes up and down as customers change their energy use. This variable charge is the only portion of the bill that customers have the ability to control. Removing this ability disempowers customers, leaving them with fewer options to cut their bills.

Costs - Higher mandatory fees also force higher costs disproportionately onto the people who use the least electricity. The result? Those who consume less energy end up paying more, while the energy hogs get a break on their electric bills.

Conservation - As if this wasn't enough, these proposals are like kryptonite for clean energy. They remove the incentive for people to conserve energy, lengthening payback periods on energy efficient appliances and solar panels alike. Adding to this dynamic, lower per/kWh charges implicitly tell consumers: We'll reward you for using more energy, and penalize you for using less.

The Fixed Fee Trend: Waxing and Waning

One of the main drivers of these proposals is the utility desire to shore up their ability to cover costs in the face of a rapidly changing national energy landscape.

This desire is not surprising. Utilities provide a valuable service of ensuring that people have access to reliable electric services, and as we work to modernize the grid and move away from the polluting fossil sources of the last century, it will be critical that--just like any other business--they can recover their reasonable costs of incorporating cleaner energy into the system.

But what is surprising is just how aggressively the industry has pursued the fixed charge approach in particular. Unfortunately, these kinds of rate restructuring proposals have been commonplace over the last few years. In 2015 alone, requests were pending in at least 24 states.

Mandatory Fee Proposals Timing Map_Dec 2015.jpg

2015 was notable for another reason, though: the unprecedented degree of public opposition to these proposals. Coordinated campaigns waged by the consumer, local government, environmental and solar communities have truly shifted the conversation. NRDC is proud to stand alongside AARP, National Consumer Law Center, NAACP, Vote Solar and many others in this battle.

Thankfully, just as the unfortunate fixed charge "trend" started to gain attention, regulators began responding to the public outcry by holding the line. The industry also appears to be reconsidering, in some states seeking other options to address the rapidly changing energy landscape.

The advocacy community doesn't always win, but this year--more often than not--we did.

The starting gun for this now-highly visible national effort went off in Wisconsin in the fall of 2014, when the state's three major investor-owned utilities proposed dramatic rate restructuring, including doubling of fixed charges to the tune of $20 per month. That amount remains--to this day--an outlier for residential fixed charges for regulated electric utilities nationwide. And people were certainly paying attention. Hundreds of customers packed hearing rooms from Milwaukee to Madison. Meanwhile, a diverse group of interveners--including homeowners, clean energy advocates, environmental groups, elected officials, local businesses, local and national consumer groups, along with local sports figures and representatives of the "green Tea Party" movement--demanded the utility go back to the drawing board.

This trend of public engagement caught on in 2015, from New York to California, Missouri to Kentucky.

And while the commissioners in the 2014 Wisconsin cases unfortunately declined to answer the call of hundreds of local voices, they were largely alone. In 2015 far more recognized the detrimental impact of fixed fee increases on homeowners in their states. In Minnesota, for example, the commission rejected Xcel's fixed fee proposal because that it would "place too little emphasis on the need to set rates to encourage conservation." In the Ameren Missouri case, the commission left the monthly charge unchanged, making clear that customers "should have as much control over the amount of their bills as possible so that they can reduce their monthly expenses by using less power, either for economic reasons or because of a general desire to conserve energy." The list of prudent commission decisions goes on and on.

The national media also took notice. Consumer Reports prominently covered fixed fee proposals from the perspective of rates and affordability, as did the Wall Street Journal.

The growing visibility of the issue came to a head at this year's annual meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). Compared with the 2014 meeting (which had only one panel on the issue, relegated to a Sunday subcommittee), in 2015 rate design, fixed charges, and the pressing need for smarter, more inclusive approaches dominated the conversation. A provocative new report was also released at the meeting that put an additional nail in the fixed fee coffin. The sustainable business group, Ceres, released "Pathways to a 21st Century Utility" authored by Peter Kind who had previously recommended in a 2013 Edison Electric Institute (EEI) paper ("Disruptive Challenges") that utilities address revenue erosion with fixed fee hikes. But now, two years later, Mr. Kind has profoundly reversed course and recommends that utilities shift away from this approach and toward innovative rate designs that accommodate the changing electric grid.

As Utility Dive quipped, "as quickly as fixed charges came into vogue, they now appear to be on the way out."

As we near the end of 2015, more signs abound that the fixed fee trend is losing ground. Even the Wisconsin commission, the outlier in this discussion, is taking notice. In a relative shift from their 2014 decisions, just a few weeks ago commissioners scaled back a fixed fee request from Wisconsin Public Service Corporation and ordered a study on their impacts on consumers. Building on a foundation that includes a joint statement between NRDC and EEI last year, the utility trade organization has also expressed interest in working with the environmental and consumer communities and discussing alternative rate designs that can command broad agreement. NRDC and others are exploring decoupling (which as of this year is being implemented in over half the states), minimum bills, and well-designed time of use rates with appropriate customer protections.

What Comes Next? 2016 and Beyond


There can be no doubt: 2015 was a wildly successful year for pushback on these regressive rate proposals.

But our work isn't done.

While the national conversation is shifting away from fixed fees to other rate structures, state-level utility proposals to increase these fees are still coming. We'll continue to fight in 2016 to ensure they don't gain traction and to encourage commissioners to demand more innovative solutions from the utilities they regulate.

As for utilities, we challenge the industry to choose a better path. There are smarter ways to modernize and keep pace with transitions in the energy marketplace. Let's work together to design 21st century electric rates that focus on affordability, efficiency and expanding access to the kinds of clean, renewable energy that people are demanding.

We think 2016 will be another banner year.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

RENEW Wisconsin Statement on Public Service Commission Approving $14 Monthly Fixed Charge for Xcel Energy

For immediate release
December 3, 2015

More Information
Tyler Huebner, Executive Director

RENEW Wisconsin Statement on Public Service Commission Approving $14 Monthly Fixed Charge for Xcel Energy

In today’s open meeting, the Public Service Commission approved a hike in monthly mandatory fixed charges for residential customers of Xcel Energy in Wisconsin, from $8 per month (today) to $14 per month starting next year, a 75% increase.   The company had been seeking an $18 monthly charge.

“Although we are happy that Xcel Energy customers will not face the full $18 monthly charge, this is still a 75% increase in mandatory fixed charges that is exceptionally higher than what utilities in other states are being granted by state regulators,” said Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin. “Over 500 individuals and organizations made their voices heard opposing this change, and their efforts helped educate the Commissioners about the impacts this change will have on their lives.”

RENEW Wisconsin conducted analysis of fixed charge requests by similar utilities throughout the country in 2014 and 2015.  Of 35 proposals identified:

- 14 were rejected entirely, including Xcel’s Minnesota operation which requested an increase from $8 to just $9.25 earlier in 2015

- 18 utilities were granted increases below $4.30, with an average hike of $2.13.

- Only 3 were granted higher increases, all in Wisconsin.  Today’s decision adds a fourth.

“Rate designs with a high fixed charge punish those customers who can least afford to pay more for their electricity. They take away the ability to control one’s utility bills, and they make it harder for customers to save money through conservation measures and more efficient appliances.  This is at bottom an issue of consumer fairness,” said Huebner.

For more analysis of this issue, please visit http://midwestenergynews.com/2015/12/04/wisconsin-regulators-approves-another-fixed-charge-increase/

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Madison Community Foundation Supports New RENEW Wisconsin Endowment for an Energy Analysis and Policy Student Intern

For immediate release                
November 24, 2015                   

More Information
Tyler Huebner, Executive Director
608.255.4044
tyler.huebner@renewwisconsin.org


Madison Community Foundation Supports New RENEW Wisconsin Endowment for an Energy Analysis and Policy Student Intern


RENEW Wisconsin (RENEW) has been awarded a 33% cost sharing grant of $34,000 from the Madison Community Foundation. The grant will fund a perpetual endowment to support a UW-Madison Energy Analysis and Policy (EAP) student intern working at RENEW.

“This grant is a perfect match between RENEW and the UW-Madison’s EAP program supporting RENEW’s renewable energy policy research. The Madison Community Foundation support allows us to permanently hire an impassioned student from one of the top energy graduate programs in the country to analyze policies that will spur the use of clean renewable energy in Wisconsin,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW’s executive director.

RENEW has a history of hiring EAP student interns who have worked on cutting edge renewable policy issues such as third party financing, utility rate cases, community solar, and more.

Don Wichert, a major donor to the endowment, RENEW Board Member, and 1987 graduate of the EAP program, praised the Madison Community Foundation in supporting this permanent support of the EAP program.  “This grant will help RENEW leverage other EAP alumni and RENEW member support setting up a great opportunity to work together for RENEW and the EAP program. This program will allow the EAP program to recruit the top students in the country to work on cutting edge renewable policy issues with RENEW,” said Wichert.

“This project furthers two of the Madison Community Foundation’s key goals – to help steward the environment and to inspire philanthropy.  RENEW Wisconsin’s endowment campaign will create a sustainable fund to attract bright students and help them develop real world experience through critical analytical and policy analysis.  It is a perfect way to celebrate RENEW’s 25th anniversary and enrich their environmental programming,” said Tom Linfield, Madison Community Foundation Vice President of Community Impact.

-----End----

RENEW Wisconsin leads and accelerates the transformation to Wisconsin's renewable energy future through advocacy, education, and collaboration.

Madison Community Foundation uses its local knowledge and assets to inspire giving, support meaningful initiatives, and connect people for the common good. Since 1942, foundation staff have helped people realize their philanthropic goals, allowing them to support charitable interested anywhere in the world. The community foundation also awards grants throughout Dane County to build communities. More information is available online at www.madison comunityfoundation.org.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Public Service Commission Sharply Trims WPS’ Fixed Charge Request

For immediate release                    
November 19, 2015

More Information                  
Tyler Huebner, Executive Director
608.255.4044
tyler.huebner@renewwisconsin.org

Public Service Commission Sharply Trims WPS’ Fixed Charge Request

State regulatory agency grants Wisconsin Public Service only a $2 monthly increase instead of the $6 requested

In today’s open meeting, the Public Service Commission sharply trimmed Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service’s request to increase monthly mandatory charges on small electricity customers from $19 to $25. Instead, the Commission settled on a $2/month increase, to $21/month, while agreeing to study the issue in greater depth.

One year earlier, the Commission approved a request from WPS to hike its mandatory fixed charge from $10.40 to $19 per month for residential and other small customers.

Commissioners Phil Montgomery and Mike Huebsch initially signaled interest in granting no increase at all.  A compromise was reached with Chairperson Ellen Nowak to increase the fixed charge by $2 per month, to $21, a 10% increase.

“We are pleased that the Commission has slowed down and granted a much smaller fixed charge increase than what WPS had requested,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.  “This sends a signal that the Commission is responding to customers who have expressed a wide variety of concerns about these high fixed charges.  In fact, 368 people voiced their opinion publicly and none supported higher fixed charges. We hope the analysis that’s conducted by the Commission leads to a broader discussion of how to design rates in a way that leads us towards an energy future that benefits all of Wisconsin.”

“Rate designs with high fixed charges punish those customers who can least afford to pay more for their electricity. They take away the ability to control one’s utility bills, and they make it harder for customers to save money through conservation measures and more efficient appliances.  This is at bottom an issue of consumer fairness, and many more consumers than usual spoke up,” said Huebner.

In the rate case, RENEW presented research demonstrating that regulators in other states were not supportive of utility requests to hike fixed charges. 

See more at: http://www.renewwisconsin-blog.org/2015/10/robin-hood-in-reverse-is-back-wps.html

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

RENEW Wisconsin Statement on Madison Gas & Electric’s 2030 Framework

Today, Madison Gas & Electric announced a framework that includes expanding the company’s investment in renewable energy to meet 30% of their electricity needs by the year 2030.

In addition, the company indicates a plan to give customers more control, and continue to engage the customers and communities they serve going forward.

“This new framework is a good step forward for Madison Gas & Electric Company and for the communities they serve.  MG&E’s goals of providing 25% renewable energy by 2025 and 30% by 2030 are achievable,” said Tyler Huebner, Executive Director of RENEW Wisconsin.

“We agree that ongoing collaboration will be needed to identify the best ways to meet the goals of this new framework.  Ensuring customer opportunities to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and incorporating equity, fairness, and control over
customer bills, should continue to be part of the conversation and collaboration going forward.”

MGE has made more information available at mge.com/Energy2030.



Record Number of Xcel Energy’s Wisconsin Customers Voice Opposition to Hike in Mandatory Fixed Charge

November 18, 2015

More Information

Tyler Huebner, Executive Director
 608.255.4044
 tyler.huebner@renewwisconsin.org

Record Number of Xcel Energy’s Wisconsin Customers Voice Opposition to Hike in Mandatory Fixed Charge

99.8% of public commenters (528 out of 529) dislike the fee hike from $8 to $18 per month

Xcel Fixed Charge Proposal Drove Hundreds to Voice Their Opinion

The final tally is in, and it is clear that Xcel Energy’s Wisconsin affiliate, based in Eau Claire, has proposed an incredibly unpopular change in how it wishes to bill customers going forward. 

Following the footsteps of other Wisconsin utilities, Xcel’s Wisconsin utility has proposed to raise its monthly “fixed charge,” which every residential and small business customer pays before using any electricity at all, from $8 to $18 per month.

In total, 529 public comments were filed, a seventeen-fold increase in public participation over any Xcel rate case in the previous five years. RENEW Wisconsin’s review shows that 528 (all but one commenter) disapproved of Xcel’s proposed hike in fixed charges.

“It is clear that Xcel’s customers overwhelmingly oppose this hike in mandatory fixed charges.  These high fixed charges are a Robin Hood in reverse scheme:  the lowest users of electricity end up paying substantially more, while high users of electricity see dollar savings,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.

Public comments were made through the Public Service Commission’s online system, in person at the public hearing on September 16th in Menomonie, or through written mail.

In the public comments, a wide variety of concerns were aired.  Senior citizens, fixed-income, and low-income advocates worry that they will have to choose between paying for electricity, food, or medicine. Energy conservation and renewable energy advocates oppose paying high unavoidable fees while seeing the variable energy rate decrease, making the payback longer than it should be for energy- and money-saving investments.

 These perspectives can be seen from the selection of public comments included below:

“I am a senior and living on a rigidly fixed income and will not be able to survive in my home if utility costs continue to inflate.” -- Cynthia Martinson, Washburn WI

“While the rest of the Country is moving forward, promoting clean energy, Wisconsin utilities are moving us backwards with proposals that undermine clean energy and energy efficiency. If approved, Xcel's mandatory fixed charge would increase to $18 per month, up from $8 today--a 125% increase, and Xcel's Wisconsin customers would be facing much higher bills than their neighbors in Minnesota.”
-- League of Women Voters of Ashland & Bayfield Counties

“I find it outrageous that in every bill from Xcel there is an insert with information on how to reduce my electricity use so that I can "save" money but at the same time, the mandatory fixed charge will be increased--probably to make up for any money Xcel loses by my conservation efforts.”
–Judy Blackstone, Eau Claire

“As an Xcel Energy shareholder, I urge the Public Service Commission NOT to approve the proposed 125% mandatory fixed charge rate increase. This steep, unfair and unnecessary increase will be too much to bear for the poorest and most vulnerable among us; those with low incomes and the elderly.”
-Dan Stickler, Eau Claire

“Where is that extra $10.00 going to come from? It will come from the food budget- people will go hungry one more night per week; it will come from the medication budget- people who take prescriptions will cut pills in half, or take the medications every other day.” -Joanne Rudrud, Altoona

“I am thankful the MN Public Service Commission rejected the 19% increase here, and implore the WI Public Service Commission to reject the 125% increase across the border.”
–Debra Bourne, Minneapolis

“The fixed charge increase XCEL is asking for is unwarranted, totally against the utilities' best interests, [and] extremely unfair to the public.”
- William E. Bastian, La Crosse

“Currently 41% of all student enrolled in our schools are using free or reduced lunch. Some schools, like Longfellow Elementary, are as high as 74%. These are the people who are going to be hit the most by any increase in rates. Keep in mind, these are just household using the assistance, it doesn`t count households living with financial difficulty who choose, for whatever reason, not to take the assistance.”
-Chue Xiong, Eau Claire School Board Commissioner.

Previous RENEW Wisconsin analysis also shows that Wisconsin is an outlier on this issue:  no other state has approved such dramatic hikes in monthly fixed charges.  Learn more at http://www.renewwisconsin-blog.org/2015/10/robin-hood-in-reverse-is-back-wps.html.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Eau Claire Cooperative’s Community Solar Project Goes Live



For immediate release                             
November 17, 2015 
 
More information      
Tyler Huebner, Executive Director                                            
608.255.4044


Eau Claire Cooperative’s Community Solar Project Goes Live
 
Wisconsin’s newest solar garden is also the state’s largest
 
Lynn Thompson, President and CEO of ECEC, shows
Michael Vickerman and Ben Paulos the solar project.
With the flip of a switch, Fall Creek-based Eau Claire Energy Cooperative (ECEC) now owns and operates Wisconsin’s newest and largest Community Solar project.  Consisting of 2,816 panels with a rated capacity of 872 kilowatts (DC), the array will produce approximately 900,000 kilowatt-hours a year, roughly the equivalent of what 90 households would consume in a year.

For the moment at least, it is the third largest solar array in Wisconsin (see table below).

River Falls-based Able Energy Company constructed ECEC’s system. Later this year, Able will commence construction on a 250 kW solar array in Minnesota for People’s Energy Cooperative.

“Eau Claire Energy’s project makes a statement on solar energy that couldn’t be clearer,” said Tyler Huebner, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a renewable energy advocacy organization headquartered in Madison. “If you’re searching for a utility project that delivers clean energy and long-term savings to its subscribers while creating good-paying jobs with in-state businesses, you’ll find an excellent example in Fall Creek.”

“Solar energy is here to stay and we encourage other electric providers to embrace that reality,” Huebner said.

Under a typical community solar project, electricity customers help finance the building of a large project through an up-front subscription fee that is paid back in full (with a modest return) through monthly on-bill credits.  A centralized solar array enables all utility customers, including those who rent or are lacking sufficient solar exposure, to support the expansion of solar generation in their community.

Since early 2014, six Wisconsin electric cooperatives have built and energized solar gardens totaling more than 1.5 MW (see table below). For information on community solar activity in Wisconsin, visit RENEW’s web page at http://renewwisconsin.org/action/CommunitySolar.htm.




Friday, October 30, 2015

BREAKING NEWS: Judge overturns “tax” on clean energy in Wisconsin


Today, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Peter Anderson overturned a key ruling that would have led to We Energies electric customers who generate some of their own power having to pay extra fees back to the utility.  RENEW Wisconsin and The Alliance for Solar Choice joined together to challenge the Public Service Commission (PSC) ruling on this fee.
Milwaukee solar installers putting
in a rooftop solar system, via energy.gov. 

“The judge today determined that there was not sufficient evidence to support the decision made by the Public Service Commission, and ruled that he is vacating these fees,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director.


In Fall of 2014, We Energies proposed that a customer who creates some of their own power to reduce their usage of electricity would be forced to pay an additional fee of $3.79 per kilowatt of power capacity per month.  For a typical 5 kilowatt solar installation on a home, that would have amounted to about $19 a month, or $227 per year, and a 27% reduction in energy bill savings.  Customers using biogas or hydropower would have faced a higher fee, $8.60 per kilowatt of power capacity.


The Public Service Commission, Wisconsin’s state agency that regulates utilities like We Energies, approved the proposal in December 2014.  They became just the second regulatory agency in the country to do so, after Arizona, where a small $5 per month fee was approved on solar customers.

The fees were set to begin in January 2016, but will not go into effect.

The Judge asked the parties (TASC, RENEW, We Energies, and the PSC) to draft an order consistent with his verbal statement.

The Judge’s decision is the third time in two years that PSC decisions governing customer-owned renewable generation have been overruled by the Dane County Circuit Court.

“Renewable energy is good for Wisconsin. When customers produce their own power, it increases our energy independence. When customers produce their own power, it increases energy security. A growing renewable energy industry will create jobs and bring investment to the state. Renewable energy is growing in states all over the country, and states right next door to us like Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota, and hopefully this decision will enable more of We Energies customers to take advantage of all the benefits of clean energy,” concluded RENEW’s Huebner.


RENEW Wisconsin leads and accelerates the transformation to Wisconsin’s renewable energy future through advocacy, education, and collaboration. More information on RENEW’s web site at www.renewwisconsin.org. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

“Robin Hood in Reverse” Is Back: WPS Customers Oppose Hike in Mandatory Fixed Charges


For immediate release                                 
October 20, 2015
More information

Tyler Huebner, Executive Director
                                          
           

Nearly 370 people made public comments. None support this policy change.

Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPS), a utility based in Green Bay, proposed in May to further increase the mandatory fixed charge for electricity that each residential customer has to pay each month.  In 2014, WPS was approved by state regulators to raise this fee from $10.40 to $19, and they are now proposing to further hike the fee to $25 per month.

In total, this represents a 140% increase in the monthly mandatory “fixed charge” that each customer would have to pay.

Nearly 370 individuals spoke out against this proposal. Of significant note, not a single individual or organization who took the time to make a public comment is in support of these higher mandatory fees. Public comments were accepted online electronically, in paper format, and taken at a public hearing on September 9th in De Pere.

“It is clear that Wisconsinites overwhelmingly oppose WPS’ continued attempts to raise these mandatory fixed charges.  These high fixed charges are a Robin Hood in reverse scheme:  the lowest users of electricity end up paying substantially more, while high users of electricity get a windfall,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.

In the public comments, a wide variety of concerns were aired, from seniors, low-income, fixed-income, energy conservation, and renewable energy perspectives. These perspectives can be seen from sample comments included below:

- “The senior community often live on the edge. With expenses for food, rent, medications & utilities constantly rising, saving money to pay these bills is extremely difficult. It is impossible to save on utilities when the base rate keeps rising. Careful usage does not work in this case. Please be aware of this as you decide what to do with the current rates. We could sit in the dark & our rates would still increase.” – Laura Frost, Wausau

- “Even if I turn down my heat, turn off my lights, and convert to solar or wind power I will be charged the same amount as someone who doesn't make any of those efforts.” – Janis Schmitz, Brussels, WI

- “Every year St. Vincent de Paul runs out of money in their budget that they have set aside for energy assistance… If we continue to raise the mandatory rates like this, these organizations that try to help the poor and the elderly are just going to run out of money, and they're going to be left behind without heat.”  – Jackie Thiry, Green Bay

- “What about all the people on fixed incomes? They often have to forego medications to pay utility bills.  – Geri Deprey, Green Bay

- “The increase in the mandatory customer charge and the modest reduction in energy rates hit low electricity users harder than high electricity users….  It is contrary to state energy policy. Wisconsin`s energy priority law states that to the extent feasible and cost-effective, electricity needs should be met first with energy efficiency and second with non-combustible renewable energy like solar. By reducing one`s savings from pursuing conservation and clean energy alternatives, this billing design encourages increased consumption of fossil fuels.” – Christine Morrissey, Appleton

- “I am living on a fixed income. I am 73 years old. I am already struggling to keep up with my rent, day to day needs and my electricity as it now stands. You will create a very uncomfortable and no win situation for me if I have to keep coming up with more money. I am required to keep my electric current to continue living in my apartment. I have no where else to go if I get evicted.” – Judith Specht, Green Bay

- “My family lives on my disability payment alone, as my wife must spend the majority of her time tending to me. Anything that impacts our budget has an extraordinary effect on our lives, literally taking food from our table. Please consider all of the families like ours that will be effected by this proposed rate hike, if it is granted. Thank You.” –Scott Horton, Oshkosh

"I believe that we are paying enough. Period. I live and work in a rural area. Many of my students struggle for basic needs. How can you justify another raise in our rates? When is enough--enough?
We are talking basic necessities -- we need light, we need heat. Our incomes are not keeping pace with the increases that are forced upon us. Please, stop."- Jann Sharpe, Oconto

Analysis by RENEW Wisconsin shows Wisconsin is an outlier on this issue.  “Although 35 utilities across 19 different states have proposed increases in mandatory fixed fees in the past two years, only in Wisconsin have large hikes been granted.  Fourteen utilities have been denied entirely, while eighteen have been granted small increases, from $0.10 to $4.30 a month for customers,” concluded RENEW’s Tyler Huebner.



The graphic above depicts 35 investor-owned utilities which have requested increases to the monthly fixed charge each customer must pay in 2014 or 2015.  The 14 utilities on the left-hand side were completely denied their request to increase the charge.  The middle 18 utilities were granted increases from $0.10 to $4.30 per month.  To the right, the three largest blue bars, all for Wisconsin utilities, show higher fixed charge increases of $6/month and more.  The two red bars depict 2015 proposals from Wisconsin utilities.  
 


-END-

Monday, October 5, 2015

Xcel’s proposed fixed-rate shift hits frugality

Photo by Pamela Powers of the Eau Claire Leader Telegram
The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram featured an excellent editorial on Xcel Energy's proposal to increase mandatory monthly customer charges, claiming that the proposal harms "frugality" by giving customers less control over their monthly bill, and also quotes RENEW's Michael Vickerman.

See the full article here.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

MG&E Proposes Community Solar Pilot Program

Vernon Electric Cooperative Community Solar
Madison Gas & Electric filed an application this week to launch a pilot program, which, if approved, would result in the construction of a 500-kilowatt array atop the Middleton Municipal Operations Center under construction. Under the proposal, MG&E will market the output from this array in 250 watt increments to residential customers, up to a maximum of 3 kW per household. Participating customers would pay a one-time up-front payment to MG&E and then receive, at a partially fixed price over a 25-year period, output up to one-half of their annual electric usage.  Under current rates, the price of electricity received through the Community Solar array would be close to the levels that Green Power Tomorrow customers pay for their renewable electricity.

As was done with other utility community solar initiatives,
RENEW plans to submit comments on
Eau Claire Electric Cooperative Community Solar Array
this pilot program to the Public Service Commission. The agency’s decision should occur before the end of October—check back with us to find out if the PSC approved MGE’s Community Solar tariff. For more information on this proposal, you can review the application here.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote a short article on MG&E’s proposal, which can be accessed here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

2015 Ride with RENEW: Our Biggest, and Best One Yet!



Gaea's Farm Wind Turbines
Our 3rd annual Ride with RENEW took place this past Sunday, September 20th and was a great success! We had beautiful weather, saw some great renewable energy installations, and not only did we meet our $15,000 fundraising goal, we passed it!



RENEW would like to thank all of you who sent your support and donations to us for our Ride with RENEW bike tour event. So far, 212 of you donated over $15,000 to support this event and work toward a clean, renewable energy future in Wisconsin. Thanks to you, we were able to meet John and Mary Frantz’s fundraising challenge of $15,000 which they agreed to match, bringing our total to over $30,000! We are humbled by John and Mary’s continued generosity towards RENEW Wisconsin, and thank them for all their support over the years.

We also had our highest biker turn out ever, with 36 riders joining us in Lake Geneva! Thank you to everyone who came out and rode for renewable energy.


We want to share with you some of the highlights of the bike ride, so we created a photo album on our Facebook page.


The 2015 Ride, our third annual, was our biggest and best one yet!


6 excellent renewable energy stops
36 riders
24 miles ridden by each rider
4 riders rode an extra 12 miles out to the solar farm, while the rest met us there by car
About 850 kilowatts of renewable energy capacity visited
Special thanks to our sponsors featured below, plus Potbelly's and Jimmy Johns for lunch: 






















Ride Summary

Johnson LEED Platinum House
We began our journey with the toughest segment of hills, up to the LEED Platinum certified house of Steve & Karen Johnson of Convergence Energy, our co-host. Steve showed us his beautiful home, as well as the solar PV installation on his garage.

From there we ventured over to Gaea’s Farm on State Line Road. Gaea’s Farm provides stable space for horse owners, and also has an arena for shows. The net-zero energy facility includes 100 kW of solar, two small wind turbines, and geothermal pipes which keep the horse barn cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Next, we stopped by Easy Living Equine Sanctuary, a horse rescue operation. Here, we not only viewed another excellent solar installation, but we had lunch (thanks Convergence Energy, Jimmy Johns, and Potbelly for your contributions!) with a great view and made friends with some of the horses. 


After that, we visited Engerman Contracting, who installed its own solar panels after installing clean energy for several clients. Our last stop on the main loop was the Franke residence, an Engerman client with solar shingles on their roof.
 
Solar Farm at Osborn Property

Then, four people biked and the rest of us drove out to the Convergence Energy solar farm, hosted on the property of Dan and Sandy Osborn.  The solar farm is 680 kilowatts of solar, one of the largest solar installations in the state of Wisconsin. 

All in all, it was a fantastic Sunday at the end of September, riding for a really great cause and fun adventure.  Many thanks to all who participated as riders, sponsors, supporters, logistic planners, and renewable site owners. Special thanks to John and Mary Frantz who are doubling the efforts of all our Ride sponsors with their match, and also to John Kivlin and Steve Johnson of Convergence Energy, who did a wonderful job planning our route and stops for the day.

If you donated $35 or more, you are now considered a member of RENEW and we are happy to have you with us. You will receive e-newsletters from us and can keep up to date via our website and blog. We have a number of events coming up around the state, so be sure to check out our events calendar.